Reflections on a Tour to Remember – Zoe’s Story
It is the eve of departure for another tour to India and I have almost lost count – I think it is up to 16. The few days before departure are always exciting (what lies in store), slightly nerve wracking (have I remembered every little detail?) and give me cause to look back (some good and some bad). During 12 years of leading people into the subcontinent and sharing a world I know and love so well, there are certainly stand out moments – like the time we picked up a man with one leg and a long package after we were denied access to a Jat village. As is the way in India nothing is lost; said person turned out to be a double flute player (hence the package – it did not contain a leg) and we were treated to a concert under a tree at the side of a dusty road as the sun went down. The group soon forgot the earlier incident. And of course there are stand out people – those who take India in their stride, leave western conditioning behind and treat each moment as a brand new journey into the unknown.
When New Zealand textile artist Zoe Cuttlefield asked to join my tour I hesitated. She was over 80, had severe diabetes, was profoundly deaf, had three knee replacements and had recently broken a vertebra in her upper back (although she did not tell me that until much later). I sought advice; Muzahid Malik told me in no uncertain terms ‘You take her’ he said ‘It will be fine and when you have done this you can do anything.’ So Zoe arrived in Mumbai, a resplendent figure already colourfully clad and eager to go! Zoe Cuttlefied soon showed her ‘stand out’ qualities: she did not once complain, embraced every experience, remained positive even when things went sideways as they are prone to do, she gave of herself and demanded nothing in return. Everywhere we went Zoe was a hit! At each village the oldest person would be trotted out to meet her and often requested a photograph; people bent over backwards for her from Vanka Rabari who especially decorated a camel (it was one of her wishes and therein lies another tale), to the considerate group members and my guide Salim Wazir who made sure she was comfortable. I initially asked if she would like a paid companion – oh no far too independent for that however early in the trip I arranged for the bus driver’s assistant – a shy youth called Bhavan – to assist Zoe on and off the bus. Before long he was carrying her bags, seeing her safely across uneven ground and I had the privilege of watching a sweet friendship develop. In villages children flocked to her and she performed magic tricks for them and this woman certainly carried magic with her. Her other wish was to see elephants. I guaranteed the camel but elephants in Gujarat are not so common. However I had not banked on Zoe’s law of attraction for there in Dasada, as we turned a bend in the road, there were not one but two elephants and in addition seven golden carriages bearing elderly Jain ladies who were ‘taking rest’ while on their way to Palitana. And Zoe managed. She managed to keep her medication on ice (no mean feat in Kutch in October), she managed to look great every day, she did not tire and even when we reached Ahmedabad and she mentioned a ‘wee pain in my chest dear’ she found her 2 day private hospital visit (thanks to Kartikeya Sarabhai) to be as entertaining as every other experience on the epic 3 week journey. Zoe was last seen shopping until the last minute (she loved to shop) at the international airport. She wanted an Indian Barbie doll for her great grand daughter and you know what? She conjured one of those up too and just minutes before boarding her flight home!
I last heard from Zoe in 2011 when she said that as much as she would like to join me in Mexico she was no longer traveling. India had been a long held dream and it was to be her last big one. Zoe would be 94 now and I did not get a reply to my last few emails so wherever she is, I write this with love and admiration for role model Zoe Cuttlefield, lover of life and liver of dreams.
This is what Zoe sent me after the trip.
These are the words that Zoe sent me after the tour:
‘Having had a desire to visit India for some years and seeing Carole’s advertisement about the trip she escorts to India, I “took the bull by the horns”! I was over 80 and it was now or never.
‘Arriving at Mumbai was memorable for the sheer crowds of humanity, cars and motorised rickshaws. The markets to me were so much fun — all the pedestrians, motor bikes, dogs and the odd cow crammed into narrow lanes with stallholders all vying for our custom. The women looked so wonderful in their multi-coloured outfits ad jewellery even whilst working on a new motorway. The traffic was awe-inspiring with just so much on the roads plus all the hooting and waving of hands – I loved it all. Visiting small villages and being welcomed into family homes where the meal was cooked over a small fire on the floor and the cook sitting cross-legged mixing and stirring the contents of the pots. Yes, there were beggars and crippled people but to my mind we did not deprive them of anything, just helped the economy by being there. There was soooo much more and especially because of my age I was made to feel like a Queen. So I suggest that you just take the ‘bull by the horns’ and go!’
Zoe Outfield (Cuttlefield)